I’m still asking those fatuous question, ‘How are you? Are you alright?’ Most people say ‘yes,’ then add, ‘not really.’
We’re not OK. Cruelty, pain, fear and fury are at loose, and our hearts ache.
What do we do? We’re probably not the people making the big decisions. So how can we make a difference? Through solidarity, kindness and keeping on going.
I’ve no words to add about the cruelty of Hamas. It’s premeditated, beyond disgusting, indescribable, yet must, in truth’s name, be described.
The pain is what possesses me, the pain of the hostages and their families, the pain of the bereaved. I’ve been staring at the picture of a young Israeli couple, beautiful, in love, – now slaughtered, their children orphans. What can one say?
‘You can quantify many things,’ a sympathetic Muslim colleague told me, ‘but you can’t quantify pain.’ And one person’s pain doesn’t negate another person’s pain. The pain of a child in Gaza with nowhere to flee is its own distinctive pain. It all adds up to a vast, immeasurable hurt. Except that pain can’t be added up either. Pain is personal; it spears the heart.
There’s rage. Where there’s abominable hurt there’s bound to be vast anger. It’s inevitable, human, understandable. Not acceptable is how so many people, not connected with the pain, ignorant of the issues, jump on the bandwagon of hate and spit on other people’s wounds.
I fear what these furies, if ungoverned, will bring to birth, what new monstrosities are right now being conceived to savage future generations, what
…shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs… (Yeats)
There’s fear, for family and friends in Israel, for our community, for school and university students, for everyone alone. I wish it wasn’t needed, but thank God for the Community Security Trust, working 24/7 to protect us, and which even at this bitter time extends its work against racism to Muslim and other communities.
Antisemitic attacks have risen off the scales. Hate crimes against Muslims have doubled. ‘I’m afraid of using public transport,’ several fellow Jews have told me. So have Muslim women. Jewish pupils have said they feel frightened, shunned and alone. So, to my initial surprise, have some Muslim leaders. Maybe our very fear and pain can bring us together to call out against hatred, at least here in Britain.
So what can we do? We must show and live in solidarity. Thousands need us, and we need them. We must keep in frequent touch with Israeli family, colleagues, friends in the army, friends whose children have been called up. We must reach out with heart and hands across the Jewish world; we must give.
Solidarity begins with loyalty to our own people. But its roots lie even deeper, in what it means to be human. I’ve spoken to Muslim and Christian leaders who seek that solidarity too, the roots of which lie in the very depths of humanity and God, and from which, if it’s to come at all, healing must ultimately spring.
We must be kind. Chesed, loving, enduring kindness, sounds weak in response to terror. It’s not. It’s a way of life. It requires constancy, generosity, forbearance and the courage to stay present amidst pain. It demands our time, commitment and heart.
We must keep going. We mustn’t forsake the wells from which we draw strength. I find them in prayer, not because I expect heaven to send miracles, but because our ancestors speak through the words and music, telling of their unyielding resilience and the presence of God. I find strength in community, nature and keeping busy.
Whatever the source of our spirit, we mustn’t forsake it. From it we draw the deep strength to guide us beyond fear and panic to care for one another.